Shovel Pruning my Forsythia

pixie_louAugust 18, 2011

I think I want to get rid of my forsythia bush. It came with the house. I have spent the past 3 summers doing some gentle pruning to try to get a decent shape. But I have now come to the realization that the bush looks gorgeous in April, but looks like crap the other 11 months of the year. As much as I like forsythia, a lone bush in my front yard is not how I like forsythia.

So my first question - once I chop this bush down to the ground - what is the best way to prevent it from growing back? I have tulips and daffodils, day lillies and hardy chrysanthemum growing underneath the bush. So I can't use any stump killer. I'm also concerned about the spring bulbs if I try to lasagna garden over it.

But this brings up my next dilemna. As you can see in the photos, I made this circle garden. It is on the front corner of my property and the garden was kinda designed around making a "home" for this forsythia bush (and my sewer vent pipe). If I chop out the bush - I think the garden will look a bit odd. I just made the garden last year - hence the lack of mature plants there.

The previous owner lined the whole property with pine trees - which kind of create a living fence with the neighbors property. In front of the first pine towards the road, I have planted a couple rhododendron bushes. They are still a bit small, but will be larger in a few years and will provide a bit of additional privacy as cars come down the road and go around the corner to get a view of our house. The only reason I had kept the forsythia in the first place was for this additional bit of privacy.

So what do I do in place of this forsythia? I don't think I want another bush. But I need something to be the "focal point" of this garden. Since this is in my front yard, I'm not sure if I want to do any funky garden art. I'm thinking of maybe a bird bath? And maybe a shepherds hook with a couple bird feeders?

We don't really have a view of this space from inside the house - it is really to be viewed from the street.


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Personally, I think I'd leave it there, at least for now. I don't think it looks particularly bad, and it serves a privacy function for you as well as reducing the impact of the utility pole viewed from the house &/or yard. Once the plants you have there now have grown a bit, then think about removing the forsythia. It shouldn't be too difficult to remove in one of a couple of ways:
-by cutting it to the ground and then removing all leaves a couple of times a week to keep it from building up any energy.
-cut all it to about a foot and then cut every root bigger than about a finger in diameter and remove all the pieces. Remove any leaves that emerge as above.
-cut as low as you can and paint the stumps with undiluted (not ready-mixed) Roundup, which is less toxic and shorter-lived than other brush killers and in my experience doesn't migrate to other plants. This wouldn't be my choice as I try to reserve herbicide use for things that I can't remove other ways like poison ivy, but it will take less work on your part.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 10:48AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Id keep it and let it turn back into a forsythia. They aren't really bad looking shrubs in the offseason so long as they are allowed their natural weeping habit. It does take up a lot of space, but it looks like you have it there.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 11:25AM
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I think it may be difficult to establish a focal point with that utility pole there. They will fight for attention.

As for a replacement plant, how about a Hydrangea Paniculata like Limelight or similar? Or, smaller ones like Endless Summer if you don't feel you need the screen.

I think the forsythia looks out of scale with the "circle". Its too close to the edge. bothers my feng-shue gene. There's no balance. However, a replacement plant may have the same problem. If you can put the new plant closer in, that would be good.

Using stump killer /roundup on the cambium layer will not migrate to other plants. Tulips often don't come back real well anyhow, so don't count on them.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 4:02PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Like Wendy, I think this shrub is too close to the edge of the bed. I would either replace it with another shrub farther in, or enlarge the bed a bit to fit the forsythia.

I just removed - well, more like "cut back" - a forsythia and will be removing another. The previous owner had two planted at the edge of the front yard near the street. I cut it back, and have continued to cut back new growth, as well as spray with vinegar. It will take awhile to get rid of it, but I can't physically remove the stump/roots myself, so I'll have to be patient.

As far as a replacement, I think some kind of mid-size evergreen would be nice. Or maybe an deciduous ilex - that would look great in winter. What is the sun situation in that spot?


    Bookmark   August 22, 2011 at 3:49PM
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Thanks for the advice/comments. I agree - the forsythia is too close to the rock wall. This garden wasn't very well planned. It started with me putting some rocks around the forsythia to keep DH from mowing the tulip bulbs I had planted underneath. Then we put in a patio and lots more rocks were dug up, so I continued the rock wall and ended up with this circle garden. Overall I like it - in the sense that I like having a garden there. But - it really wasn't thought out very well. And it looks like it wasn't thought out very well.

Interesting comments about the utility pole. I haven't really paid attention to the pole there. I actually had to go look out the window to see it! But I will now think about that as I try to "redo" this garden. And I'll pay attention to how the pole obstructs any views as you drive down the road.

I have decided to cut the forsythia to the ground real soon. And will continue to cut back new growth. I'll spend the winter deciding whether I want another shrub there - I like the idea of a small evergreen. With the forsythia gone, I think I'll be able to envision the space better. The rest of the plants there could easily be dug up and moved around if need be.

I'm still thinking of a bird bath. I saw a home made bird bath thread on the Florida Gardening page. So I'm thinking I could really build a piece of "art" there. Maybe use some terra cotta and sage green tiles - to tie in with the brick and sage green siding on our house.

And all is not lost on the forsythia. Early this summer I attempted to propogate 10 cuttings - and it looks like 9 have rooted. They will be transplanted over to another side of our property where they can create a natural fence and truly be a beautiful forsythia hedge. Granted that will be in about 10 years from now. But I don't mind thinking ahead.

Here is a link that might be useful: Home made bird baths

    Bookmark   August 26, 2011 at 3:31PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

"...It started with me putting some rocks around the forsythia to keep DH from mowing the tulip bulbs I had planted underneath...."

Ah, a gardener after my own heart! Most of my beds started the exact same way. Thank goodness for rocks when you have a weed-whacking husband around!

"...Interesting comments about the utility pole. I haven't really paid attention to the pole there. I actually had to go look out the window to see it!..."

Funny, I didn't notice it in the photos either until someone mentioned it, and that was actually going to be one of my points. I tend to think that things that we can't control like Utility poles, fire hydrants, traffic signs, etc. that are in or near our gardens are not always noticed. At least, I don't always notice them. Maybe I'm not very observant, lol. But let's face it, there are always going to be things like that which we have no control over, and I think if you had a beautiful garden around that utility pole, THAT would be the focus and not the pole. Just remember that access may be needed, although I'm amazed at what is grown (very) near and even UP the poles.

By the way, it most likely won't take 10 years for your forsythia hedge to fill in. A few years ago (3 maybe? 4?) I stuck a few cuttings here and there and was amazed at how fast they grew, and at how fast they grew so huge. As a matter of fact, I've already cut a few of them down!


    Bookmark   August 27, 2011 at 1:04PM
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